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Micowave free kitchen!

We remodeled our kitchen last November and during the process lived without a working stove for over two months. It was fun for the first few weeks. We were eating out every night, trying new restaurants in our area. Living the high life. Then we started noticing how much more money we were spending and we knew it just wouldn’t be good budgeting to keep it up for the duration of the remodel. Plan B became buying foods that we could either eat raw or “cook” in the microwave. We made salads and sandwiches, heating up soup in the microwave. We ate microwave mac n cheese, Indian food microwave meals, microwaved quesadillas, I even microwaved baked potatoes. We began to feel gross. We were not huge microwave users in the past and this was overload. About 6 weeks in our microwave began to fail. It was feeling overloaded too I guess. All of the buttons stopped working except for the 30 sec. button. So in order to cook something for 3 minutes you had to push the button 6 times, if you needed 8 minutes of micro time we were pushing the 30 sec. button 16 times. You get the picture. Funny at first, not so much after the first few days. Then the time display went out and the microwave would randomly flash numbers. It beeped on its own. We decided it was possessed and would walk by giving it a sideways glance. Thankfully our remodel came to a point where our new stove was up and running!! Yay!! I reluctantly moved the possessed microwave onto our shiny new counter. It seemed out of place. I tried moving it which didn’t help. No matter where I put it I just didn’t like it. Then one magical day it died! Completely kaput! I did a happy dance and eagerly sent it to where dead microwaves go for a proper burial. We talked about getting a new one. Maybe one that fit in the corner of the counter…then I had the crazy idea…what if we didn’t get a new one. What if we just went microwave free?? Unheard of right?! I know there was an era before microwaves (although not in my lifetime since the first microwave was introduced in 1955). I knew there had to be a way to heat left overs on the stove or in the oven. A process I have  since figured out. We made a meaningful decision to go microwave-less. I am happy to report that we have been microwave free for almost a year! It has had some disadvantages, for example I can no longer make single serve rice crispy treats on the fly when I just really need a treat. Ok, ok, I know a bad habit best to be broken anyway. But other than that it has been wonderfully freeing!  I would highly recommend putting your microwave out to pasture. Well maybe not into your yard but you get my point. 🙂

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An Awesome Six Week Menu Plan: Week One

I grew up in a home with parents who loved to cook together. These meals were elaborate and time-consuming, yummy, yes, definitely, but the time often became too long to hold my attention as a helper and I would retreat to the playroom. I learned to love food and flavors, but I did not learn to love cooking. Since growing up with wonderful foods my expectations are high, but my confidence in cooking is low.

I love food, I love eating, I love reading cookbooks and watching cooking shows…it’s time I learn to love cooking. This is the first step of building my confidence. Enter Miss Freddy (www.missfreddy.com). I met her on a Facebook group for bloggers in the Seattle area. She offered a trial of her 6 week food plan for fellow bloggers. To review, check for errors and hopefully find some sanity in the kitchen. I thought it sounded intriguing, but I was too afraid to leave my info. But the more I thought about it the more I realized I could be a good tester. A real, non-foodie mom struggling in the kitchen. A few days later I decided that it would be a good step for me. Maybe if I joined food with writing, something I do love, I may finally be successful in building my culinary confidence. So I left my info and was emailed the link to Miss Freddy’s menu plan.

The first thing that made me smile about this menu plan is that all the ingredients can be bought at Trader Joes!! Those of you who know me know that TJ’s is where I go to cheat on my husband! (not literally) but I LOVE Trader Joes. I get overwhelmed with lots of choices when shopping and get caught up in reading labels.  Trader Joes does most of the work for me. The second thing was that Miss Freddy notes that each week the ingredients for the menu costs about $85. Organic and real food! This was on the money. My first weeks menu bill $80.26! AWESOME!! The third thing was the dishes all sound super yummy! There are 4 per week leaving a day for leftovers and eating out.

Here is Miss Freddy’s post about the creation of her 6 week menu plan! The Dinner Dilemma solved…. lots of wonderful information!!! Plus beautiful pictures!

Then it was on to the cooking. The first menu item was Spinach Stuffed Chicken breasts! What?! That didn’t sound easy to me. I almost skipped it. It was a huge confidence booster when I decided I would just go for it and they turned out great! I actually made spinach stuffed chicken! Me!! I sautéed, butterflied, pounded (although I didn’t have a mallet so I put my worcheshire sauce bottle into a plastic Ziploc and started pounding with the end) It worked. I then stuffed, rolled, egg washed and breaded. All in about 45 min. (The time says 30 min prep…and I’m sure I could get to that eventually).  It was super yummy, my family loved it (although my daughters wouldn’t eat the spinach, it was ok, more for me). I was pretty proud of myself.

 

miss freddy stuffed chicken

The second nights dish was Sloppy Joe’s. I had visions of the school lunches of my youth along with Adam Sandler and Chris Farley in the Saturday night skit lunch lady. You know, singing “Sloppy Joe, slop sloppy joe…” (well, those of you who know what I’m talking about, know…) Anyway, these were good! The flavors were nice and it felt like an upscale version of a classic. It wasn’t greasy at all (like I remembered) and my kids even ate it! Amazing!! Truth be told I ate the leftovers the next day as a dip for some corn chips which was also amazing! This dish has the potential to be the base for some kick ass nachos for game day or some warm your soul chili, just add beans! Yummmmm!!! I ate mine on toasted gluten free bread, my husbands was on a wheat roll and my daught were on mini slider buns.

miss freddy sloppy joe mix

 

The next dish was Tuna Noodle Casserole. Again a classic turned better. I was pleasantly surprised. I NEVER really liked tuna noodle casserole, but my husband is a fan so I even let him make it. I know, I am that awesome. It was wonderful. The flavors were great, it was light and felt healthy ( we used gluten-free brown rice noodles). My girls LOVED this one! They even both ate the leftovers for lunch the next day. I have a feeling this will become an easy weekly staple meal.

miss freddy tuna noodle casserole finish

 

Today I made the Crockpot Salsa Chicken.  I know I sound like a broken record, but this was good! Easy just a few ingredients good! Healthy, warm comfort food at it’s finest. Plus it cooked itself. I barely did a thing! Perfect for the days where there is no time to prep or prepare a dinner. Seriously this was in the crockpot in less than 5 minutes. I think it took me longer to get my crockpot out and dust it off! I have a feeling my crockpot will be moving to a place of honor in the front of the cupboard where I can get to it to make this again, soon! This was so good I forgot to take a picture of the finished meal. We ate this on mini corn tortillas, with fresh avocado and a little sour cream.

miss freddy shredded chx crockpot

 

Miss Freddy’s 6 week dinner solution is available in her store for purchase for only $9.99. This is a great deal. It takes so much time to find healthy family friendly recipes and here is a ready made plan with 24 meals and shopping lists all set up and ready to print out, download on to your computer, smart phone or tablet. Here is the link The Dinner Solution by Miss Freddy.

I am excited for Week Two: Chicken Cordon Bleu, Creamy Chicken Fettucine, Simple Pot Roast, Secret Ingredient Burgers (shh…it’s hidden veggies…) I am up for the challenge. My confidence is rising! ❤

I plan to blog weekly about my cooking escapades so if you aren’t intrigued yet…just wait. I’m sure something will tickle your taste buds in the next 6 weeks 😉

 

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The garden keeps growing!

Our pumpkins are getting bigger!!

Our pumpkins are getting bigger!!

 

831bananapeppers

Banana Peppers!

Chocolate Bell Peppers!

Chocolate Bell Peppers!

Sunflowers!

Sunflowers!

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Our Garden Update

We have pumpkins starting to grow!!pumpkinpumpkin 2

 

We have lemon cucumbers and green cucumbers!!lemon cuke 2green cuke

 

 

We have squash starting to grow!!lemon cuke

 

We have baby watermelons!!baby wayermelonbaby watermelon 2Yay!!!! We are so excited!!

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Yard Food: Our Summer Crop Continues

More garden excitement!!

Our potato crop is completely ready to harvest.

potato

We have broccolini, cucumbers and lemon cucumbers.

crop

We have beets.

beets

Our soon to be roasted veggie accompaniment to our grilled salmon.
roasted veggies
It’s time to get our fall plants into the ground.

Here is a guide for fall planting 🙂

How to plan your fall garden: Thanks to Seed Saver’s Exchange
1) Find the first frost date for your region: http://goo.gl/toXlCI
2) Use this crop chart to figure out planting times: http://goo.gl/OKO6hh
3) Take 20% off select seeds in our store: www.seedsavers.org/Fall-Planting/
4) PLANT 

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Yard Food: Todays garden harvest

We started our first garden this year turning our back yard into a raised garden bed area. You can read about that here. We planted lemon cucumbers, tomatoes, baby watermelon, pumpkins, squash, broccoli, broccolini, red and yellow potatoes, banana peppers, green bell peppers, 4 variety of lettuce, beets, raspberries and strawberries.

My girls are eating the strawberries as they ripen before I can snap a pic and the wild rabbits seem to be nibbling the lettuce. We have enjoyed many salads already and the girls eat the broccolini right out of the garden. Today was our first potato and tomato harvest! So fun!! This was the best decision to change our back yard wasted space into our family garden project ❤ We’re already planning on what we’ll add next year!!

Our potatoes!

Our potatoes!

 

garden lettuce tomato

Red Leaf Lettuce, Romaine, Cherry Tomatoes!

 

garden broccolini

Broccolini!

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The lessons from a garden…

This spring I decided to take our side yard and give it a makeover. It went from ugly non-used space to a wonderful area filled with raised garden beds! It has become where we spend most of our time during the day.

We are learning how to care for our plants, watering them daily. Learning patience as we watch the seeds start to sprout. Waiting for the fruit or vegetable to appear. We are excited and curious and proud. Audrey watering

My daughters are thrilled when a new plant appears, squealing over any ‘baby sprout’. I never get tired of hearing the shouts of “Mommy, quick come look!”. I hear my five year old explaining to her friends that growing food takes time. We’ve read books about seeds and plants. sprout

We’ve looked up the right time to harvest broccoli. Which is at any signs of yellowing no matter the size because that means it’s gotten too warm and will shoot up and flower. New broccoli heads will shoot off the main stalk. 🙂broccoli

My daughters pick salad every night for daddy and I and continue to ‘try’ lettuce daily just to see if maybe they like it yet 🙂salad and strawberries<

Sometimes while they play they will decide they need a snack and will head to the garden. Carefully assessing whether something is ready to pick. Is it ripe enough? Big enough? Then savoring their choice. So far the only choices have been lettuce or broccoli 😉 audrey broccoliNora broccoli

I love that we are doing this. Together. Our garden continues to teach us daily and I am extremely grateful ❤

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Confessions of a caterpillar killer….

ughI have become a caterpillar killer. In fact, I just came in from my morning killing spree. My victims, tent caterpillars. What I once thought were kinda cute harmless little crawlers have become invaders from hell. Oh yeah. I AM NOT A FAN. The afternoon a few started falling from the sky landing on my children, who then began screaming, turning our tranquil backyard picnic into a panicked natural disaster zone, I began to launch my counter attack.

Yes, I looked up what the are. Western Tent Caterpillars, common for this area in spring. An article in a local town paper the Mukilteo Beacon requests we do not panic. And “The public is asked to tolerate these insects because they are part of the natural ecological process for our area”. Ok, great, I’m sorry but when caterpillars start falling from the sky all bets are off. So, I also looked up how to get rid of these “natural ecological processes” and there are a few ways. Drowning and burning being the most effective. Horrific I know, but once you’ve crossed that line…its all over. Read the rest of this entry »

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How to build Wooden Garden Bed For FREE!

Building a wooden raised garden bed can cost some $ and takes time and tools. Here is an almost free, really fast and easy way to make a wooden garden bed.

 

What you will need:

  • Pallet
  • soil
  • plant
  • garden fabric (or plastic bag, newspaper, cardboard)
  • stapler

Directions:

Find a pallet. Free wood!! These are easy to find outside most any stores. I have found grocery stores to be the best. Now the hard part may be getting this home…be creative 🙂

Once the pallet is home, take it to where you want your garden bed to be. Now if the slats are close together you may not need garden paper if you don’t mind a little dirt spilling through. I used garden fabric under mind, because I had some. Use this is you do not want the soil to fall though the slats. (You could also put cardboard or newspaper under it. This will start to decompose after a little while but that will just add to the soil).

Lay whatever you are going to use down in the area you want your garden. Then set the pallet slat side down on top. The back of the pallet facing up should not have the slats but 4 open spaces. Now, two sides of the pallet are open. I stapled ( using a regular office stapler) the garden fabric up from the piece I had laid the pallet on. Wrapping the sides up sort of like wrapping a gift. I imaging you could staple plastic bags across the ends or a piece of wood to close the ends. You could even leave it open. Some soil may fall out, but I left my lettuce pallet garden laying down and one end is open and it seems to be doing just fine.

pallet bed

Then fill each section with soil and plant your plant. We planted squash. The starts were given to us from our neighbor. You would be surprised who has free plant starts they are thinning out and will be very happy to hand off to you. The plant will grow in the pallet bed and the vines and leaves will spread out over the ground.

You can plant anything!!

pallet squash

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How I started wasting less by implementing meaningful food practices.

I buy only one weeks worth of food at a time. I didn’t used to do this and it was a huge adjustment. Here’s why.
I was a food waster, big time! I am not proud of that fact AT ALL! I was throwing away probably over half of the food I was buying for my family of four. I know. Horrific. Not just from a money perspective, but more importantly from the health of our planets perspective. I recycle, I use a re-useable water-bottle, I bring my own bags to the store, I have re-useable lunch bags for sandwiches and snacks, I walk instead of drive as much as possible. I liked to think I have a pretty light carbon footprint. EXCEPT when it came to food waste.

Now I am grateful to be able to say that I am now a recovering food waster. All it took was for me to take stock of my behaviors and carry out a plan to change. The first thing was for me was to stop going to warehouse stores like Costco for groceries. Don’t get me wrong, I love Costco for a few reasons, like their business practices, how they treat their employees and their fair wages. Unfortunately for me, the bulk food buying was a major contributor to my food waste. I never seemed to make it through any large pack of fruit or veggies before at least a third went bad. The large tub of organic lettuce always went bad half way through. The bread loaves in sets of four were no better. I would try to freeze three out of the four but then I wouldn’t get them out of the freezer until it was much too late. Cans of food were pushed back into my pantry to be forgotten, the super-sized bags of pretzels or chips would go stale. Milk would go bad and cheese would mold. We just couldn’t consume the food I was buying in time. And when this food went bad, with a sense of loathing I would throw it in our garbage or down the disposal. CRINGE!

We are also a generation that has gotten used to expecting perfect foods. A certain shape, color, with no blemishes or flaws. Kind of how Hollywood portrays women (but that’s another issue). We want the best of the best and the rest, gets tossed to the side. As for this ‘perfect food ideal’ I made a mindset change. For example, if an apple is bruised I do not throw it away. I can bake it or dry it into apple chips. Same with most veggies, zucchini, carrots, celery…if they have lost their crispness I cook with them. Add them to soup, sauces, and casseroles. My crock pot has become my new “garbage” disposal so to speak. When I really thought about it, most of the food I was throwing away wasn’t inedible, it just wasn’t as good as what I could just go re-buy at the store. Which brings me back to my once a week grocery trip.

I now grocery shop once a week on Tuesdays. I buy less, 5 days worth of lunch options for my girls and I, and 5 nights worth of dinners, each dinner including 1 protein, 1 grains/starch, and 2 veggies. Yes, I know there are 7 days in a week, but I account for at least one meal of leftovers and one possible out to dinner meal either at a restaurant or friend or families home. I purchase few snacks and drinks, like juice or iced tea. I buy just enough milk and eggs. I buy one treat like ice-cream bars. In a box there are 8. That gives us two nights for sweet treats and other nights we have an apple, or other fruit or popcorn. My girls eat more dinner now knowing there isn’t a ‘special treat’ every night.

I do not buy more even though I am tempted. I plan wisely. I buy some fresh and some frozen, starting all fresh at the beginning of the week, leading to the frozen toward the end. By Monday our fridge (which is never full to start with) is very empty. This system forces me to eat what I have purchased. Another problem I had with food was forgoing what I had bought and making only what sounded good that day. This left fresh food I should be eating first being left until last and therefore going bad. With this method I have been forced to cook and eat what is here.

I could go to the store in between my weekly shopping trip but I don’t. It has become a sort of challenge to make it through the week. We have run out of “food” and resorted to making pancakes for dinner since we had mix in the pantry. We eat left-overs the next day so there is no questioning whether they are bad. We may add something to them, but we eat them nonetheless. I also stopped cooking food for six instead of 4. It’s a good night when we are all just full enough and there are no leftovers. A success! I have gotten better at this.

Now, the little bits of foods we don’t eat…the peelings, rinds, tips of beans or carrot ends. Well, I have a friend who has chickens who will eat anything. I give her some. My 136 pound St. Bernard loves veggies, so I often feed the trimmings to her as I make dinner. She also loves the fish skin and any meat bones. My next step will be to build a homemade compost bin. But there really isn’t much at all that I need to think about finding an alternative disposal for.

So, stats, according to the US EPA 21% of landfill waste is food! 20 % of methane gas emission is from this food waste in the landfills. When we waste food we are also wasting all the resources it took to grow that food and transport it to us. There are many environmental as well as economic benefits of less food waste practices. You can read them here.

So in a nutshell here are my simple tips:

  • Buy less food. Start with a weeks worth and buy only the minimum you think you’ll need. You won’t starve. You can always run to the store.
  • Don’t throw out food based on its appearance. It probably isn’t inedible.  Find a way to use it anyway.
  • Keep half fresh and half-frozen (if you are buying a weeks worth) . If you won’t eat it in 3 days, freeze it or buy already frozen proteins and veggies.
  • Eliminate buying super-sized anything. It’s just better not to.
  • Find out who in your neighborhood has animals that eat food waste. Like chickens or pigs. You may be surprised who would love your veggie ends.
  • Build a composter. There are some easy DIY on you-tube and the web. When I make mine I will post it.
  • Don’t be afraid to be creative with meals. Use leftovers to make a frittata or have breakfast for dinner. A  ‘clean out the fridge’ table spread. Kids think it’s fun to have something out of the ordinary.

Please share any tips you may have to help cut food waste in the comments below!! In this case more is better 🙂

 

 

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